The Manifesto Club welcomes the suspension and review of the vetting and barring scheme. We have been calling for this review for the past three years: all of the many people who have been involved in our Campaign Against Vetting have done something to win this important gain.
The massive vetting database – which would mean subjecting 9 million adults to constant criminal records vetting – would do little to protect children. The main result would be to further damage adult-child relations, encouraging suspicion and mistrust of anyone who offers to help out in their local football club or nursery. It would make the most informal and everyday activities subject to state clearance: a sort of ‘safe adult card’, without which we would be presumed paedophiles.
However, this scheme doesn’t just need tweaking: it needs to be scrapped altogether. The vetting and barring scheme has already been reviewed and tweaked by Roger Singleton for the previous government last December. He redefined the meanings of ‘frequent’ and ‘intensive’ activities with children, and reduced the numbers of people who would have to go on the database.
We hope that the current review doesn’t end up with yet more consideration of the meanings of ‘frequent’ and ‘intensive’ activity. Wherever officials draw the line for database registration, it will still be an absurdly bureaucratic exercise. It would still present big problems for voluntary groups and children’s organisations, not least of which is trying to work out the tortuous specifications of exactly who is supposed to register. What is needed is a deconstruction of the vetting and barring scheme, right down to its poisonous roots.
In addition, we also need to challenge the increasingly common practice of CRB checking everybody who goes anywhere near a child – a practice enforced by regulations from official bodies including Ofsted, local authorities, and the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU). Already, some four million adults – many of them volunteers – are subjected to CRB checks every year, for everyday activities such as helping out in a kids’ sports club or an old people’s home. The damaging effects of vetting on volunteering are clear, with groups around the country left short of helpers or shutting their doors to under-18s.
Never has a set of policies purporting to protect children done them so much harm. Suspicious child protection policies actually mean decent adults withdrawing from children, believing that they put themselves ‘at risk’ or that working with children is ‘too much trouble’. The result is that children are left more isolated, and have fewer people to turn to if they are in trouble.
This government is recognising popular concerns about the hyperregulation of everyday life. But the interfering child protection bureaucracy needs to be tackled at base, and not fiddled with around the edges. The last thing anyone needs are new statements, new guidance, and yet another set of benchmarks for voluntary organisations to try to get their heads around.
At the Manifesto Club, in alliance with the many individuals and organisations who are also against this suspicious law, we will seek to ensure that this political moment is seized and not lost.